SAN ANTONIO -- Last June, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to stop the deportation of the so called "dreamers." They are people younger than 30, who came to the United States before the age of 16, who pose no criminal or security threat and who are students or served in the military.
In San Antonio, students like 19 year-old Iris and 23 year-old Juan Carlos, were only one years old when their families brought them across the US-Mexico border illegally. They are not related, but have one thing in common, both have been living in San Antonio their entire lives as undocumented immigrants. But now they say for the first time, the new policy offers them a legal option to remain in this country.
“All I could remember was San Antonio. I don’t remember any other country” says Juan Carlos. "I was one. My parents immigrated in 1985" says Iris. Both shared a life in fear of deportation, not being able to work, no legal papers, and in more ways than one literally non-entities.
Applications under the program which is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals “DACA” began last Summer: "Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people”
said President Obama as he made the announcement.
When Juan Carlos heard the news, it was like a chain holding him back finally broke, he says. “I felt like I was screaming really, really loud.. And finally someone came and heard me. Someone understood me that it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t break the law, I didn’t come here illegally. I was a baby.”
Individuals who qualify to receive deferred action status can apply for temporary employment authorization. However it can be revoked at any time, and it is not a path to citizenship, something last June when announcing the new policy, President Obama stated “Let’s be clear, this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship”
The new policy, however, offers both Iris and Juan Carlos in San Antonio, and more than 800,000 nation wide so called "dreamers" a legal option to apply for temporary two year permits.
Only days before Thanksgiving Iris received a response to her DACA application, a letter with news she had been waiting for nineteen years.
"I just looked at it" says Iris who feared the worst, either she was approved, or now she was in the system, and could in fact be deported.
"So I opened it and they said that they accepted me. I wanted to cry" Her parents who had brought her to this country when she was only one years old, she says were also in tears. "I don’t have to be afraid to go to school. I don’t have to be afraid to be sent back to Mexico." Iris told News 4 WOAI.
"The simplest thing from gaining a little paper, and proper identification; it made my dream come true. It makes me the happiest person in the world." says Juan Carlos.
Iris wants to work and put herself through school, she wants to be a Pediatrician. Juan Carlos will soon graduate as an Automotive Technician. He says he can't wait to be able to help his family, and his father who thus far has supported his academic efforts shining shoes at a San Antonio mall.
While official figures of how many children have entered the country illegally through no fault of their own are not available, the IPC, Immigration Policy Center, a non-partisan organization, reports that there are roughly 1.8 million immigrants in the United States who might be eligible for the deferred action initiative.
According to the Dept. of Homeland Security, about 180,000 people have applied for DACA. Around 4,500 applications have been approved, while about 2,000 have been rejected or sent back as incomplete.
:: Resources: http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/who-and-where-dreamers-are-revised-estimates
:: Learn about the process: http://www.uscis.gov/childhoodarrivals